The Ride to Boronbay

Morning arrived, much the same as the previous one. Clear blue sky and still air. We awoke at around six, while it was still blessedly cool and began our morning packing routine; taking the saddles and horse tack out of the tent, packing the horse panniers, arranging everything to be packed into manties into little heaps where they would wait until we had taken the two tethered horses off their ground tethers, the ropes did double duty as our mantie ropes. Packing was a delicate balancing act where everything had to be completed in the right sequence. All the while the horses had to be kept calm through the whole process of saddling and loading. When we got it right, they would stand together in a group, barely moving except for the swishing of tails and the nodding of heads. Sometimes though, one of them would decide to hop away and this would shatter the peace and we would spend most of our time running off in all directions to reclaim errant ponies rather than packing and loading. This was one of the reasons that packing up often took us three hours in those early days. The record, set this particular morning, was five hours. Things started well enough. While Tim collapsed the tent, I took the horses to water, leading Captain James and Mongol Morris, while Tim’s riding horse hobbled along in our wake rather than wait his turn. Tim’s pack horse stood apart from the others, apparently happy to wait. When I returned to our camp I remarked to Tim on his riding horse’s agility.

″Did you notice how easily he bounds along with his hobbles? He could go for miles like that I bet. And did you see how how he was managing to drink while still hobbled? It’s funny, he knelt on his front knees to get down to the water. I’ve seen him graze like that too. Just like a goat.”
Tim paused. ″Not a bad name actually.”
″’Yamar?’” I asked, recalling the Mongolian word for goat.
″It will do for the time being. Maybe we’ll think of something better.” Tim said doubtfully.
″What about the other one?” I asked.
″What about Shar?”
″As in the Mongolian word for yellow?”
″Beats ″My luggage horse”.”

We heard the sound of a herder’s motorbike putt-putting towards us and shortly thereafter a slightly chubby, well groomed young man arrived at our camp, his young daughter riding pillion. He was dressed in city clothes rather than the countryside costume of a del and black, Russian riding boots. During a brief chat, comprised of the standard questions, the herder explained he had seen us the previous night but had not wished to disturb us. We thanked him for the use of what were clearly his family’s grazing land and he nodded his head graciously. Tim asked him if he was going to Naadam; today would be the first day of the festival in Ondoshiret, twenty kilometres away. He shook his head. ″Hon”, he explained; the collective term for sheep and goats in Mongolian.

The herder rode off to herd his hon down towards our meadow. Tim and I turned our attention back to the horses. Tim’s newly christened luggage horse, Shar, was proving difficult to catch. Last night’s problems with the horse-bell had upset him to the extent that he now wanted nothing at all to do with us. We ended up circling the horse, halter in hand until he would eventually spin and threaten us with his back legs. He was still hobbled, so couldn’t actually kick properly but he could move quickly enough to escape our grasp. The horse-bell was still strapped around his neck and making its dreadful clanging, upsetting the horse and us. The sun was up now and a battle with a horse was the last thing we wanted. We left Shar to his own devices for a while and readied the other horses but when we attempted to catch him again, Shar foiled our attempts. We were at a bit of a loss. In the other countries we had worked with horses in there was always some sort of barrier, normally a fence, to push a difficult to catch horse up against. Eventually the horse would accept the inevitable and allow itself to be haltered. Shar was under no such illusion and resolutely refused to be captured. We chased him inexpertly around and around, to no avail. Eventually, the herder we had spoken with earlier rode back over to lend us a hand, showing us how to create a human fence on either side of the horse, each party slowly advancing until we got close enough to Shar for the herder to throw a halter around his neck. The herder moved swiftly towards the horse’s head and placed the halter correctly on. The tension went out of Shar’s body and we speedily removed the terrible horse-bell.

I continued to feel queasy and much to Tim’s annoyance I took regular breaks from packing duty, putting my below par health down to anxiety. Packing and loading completed, we left the river and travelled back to the main road. We continued along the road for a few kilometres before leaving the Tuul river late that morning and heading inland still following the same route. Eventually we turned off the track we had been following for the last two days and moved further inland with the Tuul river now behind us. The landscape changed to an arid desert with small, scrub like plants dotted over the hard, rain chocked ground. The blistering heat of the sun beat down on us all making the lack of shade apparent. I started to relax only because I was too hot and too thirsty to worry constantly about the horses. I dared not drink as that would have meant loosening the grip on my horses’ reins/lead rope and running the risk of loosing them. We turned northwest and in the distance in front of us the ground rose to hills turning into jagged, bouldered mountains. A Ger was situated at the bottom of one of the mountain crops. In our immediate view to the west were a couple of medium sized hills with a Ger perched on the top of each and to the north was the road we had travelled on and the Tuul river that had now been obscured by two large hills. We rode past a Ger at the foot of one of these northern facing hills. Six dogs flew after us, running and barking enthusiastically encouraging us to move away. We led the horses west and walked wide of the Ger. The dogs retreated, content that our party were not a threat, until a man living at the Ger sent them after us again. I could only assume he wanted to make sure we did not approach his home. The horses did not appear bothered by the dogs yapping at our heels and kept walking.

The landscape began to yet again change. We had walked towards the mountains in front of us continuing our path of northwest. We headed up and over some small hills, progressing through the wild-west like surroundings. To our right were large rocky outcrops and a pass between two of them beckoned us. We walked through it and down into a valley with a dry river bed running across it and dead, beige coloured trees lining the empty river bank. All the horses spooked as we crossed the dry river bed, frightened by the dead trees, imagining no doubt that the shapes the dead wood formed were bears or wolves come to eat them. We continued northwest up and over a hill and followed a track that had been in existence when the Russian maps we were using on our GPS were plotted in the 1970s.

The only other humans we saw over the next few hours were two young boys who rode past us. They did not stop to talk, just stared and kept going. We turned right to continue northwest and rode along a trail going over a hill. On either side of our path were stone ruins and sheltering from the oppressive heat of the sun were bands of horses. We decided this would make a good place for a rest. We walked our horses down a small track leading away from the sheltering horses and the coolness offered by the ruins. We did not want to disturb the other ponies. Mongolian horses, when loose and approached, will always turn and run from a human. Horses by nature run first and think later. To have advanced on the ‘wild’ equines would have sent them scattering and in turn our horses would have followed suit.

We stopped on our track, dismounted and hobbled the horses. Captain James moved his back left leg every time I attempted to place a back hobble on and both my horses tried to wander off to eat. Tim also had a hard time settling his horses and in frustration shouted loudly ″Arghhhh! I hate having a rest!” We managed to hobble and tie the horses and they stood still, swatting each other with their tails to keep the flies at bay. The rest was not particularly restful. There was no shade from the sun and the temperature was in the high thirties. There was an abundance of flies, some large green bodied ones that bit at random and other smaller varieties that buzzed continually around the face seeking moisture from the dry air.

That day was a long day, twelve hours in total and neither Tim or I drank much water. The horses barely drank from the river in the morning being too nervous to stay for long and I worried about us and them. We finished our rest and remounted the horses, again Tim waiting to hand me Captain James before quickly jumping onto Goat in order to take control of the reins before he turned around and headed in the direction of his last home. We descended off the hill with the stone ruins. The Russian maps showed Gers along our route that had been in place for over 40 years and as we passed them we marvelled on how they were still exactly where the Russians had plotted them. We rode up and over another hill. A road running across our line of sight, situated in the lowest part of the valley, was plotted on the new Mongolian map of Tov Aimag we carried with us and was marked as an “improved road” and was a main road. It was called an improved road because the sand had been compacted. We saw only one SUV speed from right to left during our two hour ride down to the road. We crossed and headed towards a well that was shown on the Russian map only and was currently out of our sight. We hoped it still functioned as daylight had begun to fade and the horses had slowed down with the heat, the lack of water and the effort of carrying their respective loads. Across the road we passed three empty wooden animal shelters that lent the area an empty feel. A place that had been populated once but no longer was. We were to learn later that Mongolia has lots of these settlements that are used as winter and/or spring residences. The water does not flow in the wells, springs and rivers in the general vicinity all year round.

We rode pass these deserted dwellings and I saw a young man galloping his horse parallel to us on the foothills of the adjacent mountain. Where there were people, there were water sources! I waved to him. He stared and kept riding. No-one came to investigate so we rode on down a small but well used track. The horses kept shying as there was rusty, disused machinery in a gully to our left, again conjuring up images of horse-eating monsters in their minds, and the track we rode down became narrow. Eventually the trail led to a well. On either side were steep rocky slopes. The right led to higher hills that turned into even higher mountains. The left led to two Gers settled on top of two separate hills. It was 8:30 pm and we were all tired, hot and thirsty. A woman on horseback was by the well and I asked her if we could use it. She said ″Okay” and moved the horses and cattle that had gathered around the well out of our way. We were relieved to have reached water. The horses sniffed the air, smelling the water nearby.

As we approached the well I noticed a Land Cruiser above us on the hill top driving towards the Ger behind us. I waved in their direction and the car altered its course, driving towards us. A short but slim man around 40 years old and a young girl of 7 or 8 years old appeared from the vehicle and quickly scrambled down the hillside to come to us. This man was called Boronbay and we were about to discover the famous Mongolian hospitality.

Packin’ In On Horses

The morning after our first night alone, the father of the two boys whose Ger we had camped near rode over to say hello. He asked us where we were from, where we were going and where our car was. We answered accordingly. Satisfied with our responses he asked to see our riding saddles. He told us the saddles were beautiful and spent some time inspecting them. He asked where the saddles had come from. ″England”, we were pleased to report. He explained he had herding to do but that he would be back and he would ride with us to the road. He cantered off towards the river to move his sheep and goats to higher ground.

We continued the long and arduous job of packing and loading the horses. The canvas and brown leather pack panyards (horse-packing panniers) used on Tim’s riding horse were easy to use. Once the panyards were packed I held the horse to ensure he stayed in place while Tim lifted and hooked each bag onto the pack saddle.

The canvas parcels or “manties” which Captain James carried were much more difficult to prepare and balance. First of all, one had to lay the canvas out flat on the ground. Next, items of a similar shape and weight had to be arranged on the sheets, then we had to wrap the canvas around the luggage in the manner of a Christmas present. Finally, we secured the load, very tightly with a rope; no easy task and one that often left Tim dripping in sweat. Eventually, we were left with two canvas bundles (the “m
manties”) about the same size and shape as a hay-bale. This done, each mantie had to be secured to the pack saddle using a sling-like knot called a basket hitch. The horse was then led around in walk and trot and taken over uneven ground to settle the manties and to see if they would stay sitting evenly. Sometimes they did not, necessitating a re-balance or even frustratingly on occasion, a re-pack.

Our new friend, the herder, returned as promised, just as we had gotten the manties settled. He studied them for a short while, leapt off his horse, quickly tying the reins around the horse’s front legs as a makeshift hobble and told us we were doing it all wrong. This became, we later discovered, a standard thing for a Mongolian horseman to do. Without any prior knowledge of one’s packing methods or saddle they would insist they knew best. The method we favoured (described in Smoke Elser and Bill Brown’s “Packin’ In On Mules And Horses”) had the manties loaded so that they stuck up in the air and jiggled about when the horse moved. This allows the luggage to shift and helps balance the load but is in direct opposition to one of the prime tenets of Mongolian horsemanship, which is that anything that looks remotely loose must be tied down immediately and forcefully. A favourite word of the Mongolian countryman is ″Changga” meaning ‘Strong!’, ‘Tight!’ or ‘Hard!’. Our friend grabbed a coil of spare rope from the ground and tied the two manties tightly together at the top, then tied them again back to the pack cinch.

″Changga!” our friend announced, looking pleased with himself.

To be fair to the Mongolian horseman, many horse-packers apparently do the same in the USA, unable to accept that the apparently precipitously balanced loads can possibly be safe but tying the load so it cannot move actually de-stabilises it and makes it more likely that the pack horse will sustain injuries to his girth.

Tim looked dejected. He had spent hours tying the manties correctly and this guy had undone his hard work in a few seconds. Before we set off Tim handed the man some spare rope we did not need as a parting gift. He accepted it in the typical Mongol way, nodding his head briefly. Mongols are not effusive when they accept gifts.

I mounted Mongol Morris and Tim passed Captain James’ lead rope to me. Tim then mounted his riding horse. As always, the riding horse refused to wait until Tim was seated, preferring to walk hastily off in the most inconvenient direction, leaving Tim to sort through a mess of reins and lead rope, quickly switching the lead rope behind his back to avoid strangling himself. We headed off towards the road we had travelled along the previous day, the herder leading the way. As we walked our companion asked us lots of questions about livestock in Britain.

″Do you have sheep in your country?”
″Yes”, we replied, ″lots of sheep.”
″Do you have goats in your country?”
″Yes, some goats but more sheep.”
″Do you have camels in your country?”
″Very few camels.”

Whilst mobile phones have made it to the Mongolian countryside, and even in some areas a mobile phone signal, data services and therefore the internet, have not. Herders are thus deprived of much information about outside places. There are few books in the countryside, so people have to refer to their memories, what they learned while at school and university and received wisdom.

We asked the herder whether he was planning to go to the local Nadaam in Ondoshiiret. Naadam, the Mongolian summer festival, is much like an English village fate but with vodka instead of beer, horse racing instead of splat-the-rat and wrestling instead of a tug-of-war. Our friend told us that he would be attending and proceeded to talk about the racehorse he had been training. Most Mongolian countryside men have at least one racehorse and we found that this subject was often an interesting way to engage them in conversation. After an hour or so our companion left us and we continued riding along the dirt road that passed for the main highway in these parts.

My nerves had eased somewhat after a little chatting and I began to enjoy the scenery. On either side of the road everything looked much the same as the previous day; Gers stippled the Tuul river flood planes on our right side, north, while to the south, brown, dusty hills rolled on and on until the eye could see no further, the occasional Ger breaking the monotony. After some time our route moved away from the road, towards the south and we lost sight of the river. All sides were now dusty, semi-desert, little in the way of pasture, no trees, no water. We both felt nervous in this environment, away from water and pasture. Horse-flies continued to bite indiscriminately and incessantly. Sometimes a cricket, startled by a horse’s foot-step would spring away making a whirring sound, loud in the silence, it’s vestigial wings struggling to power it away from the perceived threat. Once or twice a horseman stopped to chat. One of the desert plants had a cloying, menthol odour, pleasing to begin with but soon over-powering and unpleasant. The sun hammered down on us.

Eventually, late in the afternoon, the Tuul river appeared in the distance. We both heaved a sigh of relief and headed towards a patch of emerald green near to that night’s camp. The horses had become sluggish in their walks during the day and suddenly perked up once they caught the scent of water. We had to hold them tight as we descended via a large sandy hill onto the green grass of the Tuul flood-plains once more.

Our camp-site that evening was situated near to a small patch of bright green pasture next to the Tuul on what was almost an island, nestled in the curve of a meander in the river’s course. Our camp was shielded by a large row of tall Poplar tress growing on the opposite bank of the river to the north, while to the south, was the steep, not-quite-a-hill, not-quite-a-sandbank we had walked down earlier. We felt very safe on our little camp-site, shielded as it was in all directions. A large Red Kite stood motionless on a small boulder on the riverbank. As we approached the bird took flight, joining three others that flew overhead before perching in the trees opposite us. We dismounted, hobbled the horses and unloaded the pack animals. We sat for half an hour worn out and thirsty, then steeled ourselves to make that night’s camp.

We unpacked the manties and panyards, pitched the tent and set up camp while the horses stood huddled in a group, nodding their heads and flicking their tails to avoid the flies. We followed Mongolian custom and left the horses saddled until they were cool and the sweat on their coats had dried. This dissuades insects and prevents them from cooling too quickly and catching a chill. After we had set-up camp, we unsaddled the horses. Tim stowed their saddles in the tent while I took them to the river to drink. The horses, having never seen a sizeable river before, were very unsure about the prospect of drinking from the Tuul and despite their thirst I had to coax them towards the water, one at a time while they snorted and rolled their eyes. When I took only one horse to the river they were keen to get back to the group and took only the minimum water necessary despite having walked all day in the pounding heat. When I took two at a time one would spook and pull back from the water inciting excitement in the other. None of the horses drank enough water.

Tim set about locating two good spots for placing picket pins; steel spikes around a foot and a half long, around which a length of rope would be secured, then tied to a horse’s hobble. With the horses watered, Tim secured Captain James and his luggage horse to the ground tethers and I hobbled Mongol Morris and Tim’s riding horse for the night, switching the back hobble from their left hind leg to their right one in accordance with (central) Mongolian tradition. We cooked the same meal we were to have for umpteen nights; spaghetti and two packets of freeze dried, Indian vegetarian meals. We had been eating two small bowls each but on this night I felt queasy after my first and handed Tim my second bowl to finish.

The previous night we had fastened a horse bell around Mongol Morris’s neck which proved reassuring while at the same time irritating. Mongol Morris never strayed far from Captain James so we decided to dispense with the bell on him and switched it to Tim’s luggage horse as he often wandered off, making the night-time shifts even more irksome than they were otherwise. That night we slept for two hour shifts rather than hourly, as we had previously. Tim’s luggage horse headed off away from the group a few times and the dull clanking of the bell guided us towards the horse. Unfortunately, the horse himself became very irritated by the sound of the bell. When the horse tried to avoid being caught and led back to the group by Tim during the 3am watch this set off a furious round of clanging, which in turn got the horse more frightened and worked up, which then made him even harder to catch. Tim spent nearly an hour trying to catch the horse and became lost and disorientated again during the struggle. After that episode we dispensed with the bell altogether.

The night sky was a magnificent sight due to the absolute lack of light pollution. More stars were visible than most of us in the developed nations have seen in many a year. The Milky Way was clear to the naked eye; very beautiful and whilst I would have preferred to have slept, the stars made the night watch easier to cope with.

All Alone

Today was the day Big Batdrack left us and we tried once more to start our long ride alone.  We packed up, brought the horses in and started to saddle them.  As Mongol Morris got close to Captain James, he took one look at the pack saddle and pulled back quickly, trying to move away from the saddle.  His lead rope slipped through my hands to the end and I grabbed it quickly.  Mongol Morris started to twist and turn trying to get free.  I dropped my riding saddle and hung on to the lead rope with both hands.  Working my way up to the halter, I grabbed it near the bit and tugged sharply to bring him under control.  He was terrified of the luggage, given all that had happened in the past few days and stood there trembling.  I felt stressed and tears threatened to brim over my eyes.  I blinked them away, took a number of deep breaths and focused on saddling Mongol Morris.

Tim and Batdrack loaded the luggage horses and Batdrack suggested I mount Mongol Morris then he would hand me Captain James’s lead rope.  It took a few attempts before Mongol Morris stood still enough for me to take the lead rope; as soon as I did, Mongol Morris started bucking.  Worried I was going to loose the horses or get thrown off, Big Batdrack shouted ″Start walking! Start walking!” I moved the horses into a walk and Mongol Morris started to calm down.  Tim and Batdrack mounted their horses.

Mongol Morris had (and probably still has) the slowest walk known to man. I think I could crawl over rocks faster than he walked so it was not long before Tim and Batdrack caught us up. Tim’s riding horse had calmed down and Tim had begun to enjoy riding. I, on the other hand, felt constantly anxious.

We headed to a nearby well to water the horses and both Tim and I tensed up.  As always, visiting the well was a painful experience. One had to dismount and immediately hobble the horses.  This may sound easy enough but consider that the horses were normally extremely thirsty and therefore extremely eager to get to the well, making hobbling awfully difficult, as the horse is always trying to step away from one and towards the well.  Watering time is one of those occasions when horses’ pecking order comes into play and the horses often became aggressive towards each other and us.  Add to this several million years of evolution informing the horses’ hind-brains that watering holes are dangerous places and you have a high energy, bothersome situation.  If you are a European horse-person you may ask yourself why we needed to hobble the horses at all.  Consider that Mongolia is a land almost entirely bereft of fences or land boundaries of any sort.  At this point in our trip and for some time afterwards if we had let go of our horses they would have run towards home.  For us, hobbling was the only way to make sure they stayed with us.  Later in trip we could let the horses wander around free for short periods of time but not yet.

As we approached the well, Captain James shied at an imaginary wolf and bolted, again.  I lost hold of the rope, again.  Batdrack caught my horse before he got too far but this did nothing to settle my nerves.

While the horses drank, I took more deep breaths and looked around me.  The area was vast.  We were surrounded by high mountains on all sides and beyond those mountain tops were more black and grey rocky peeks peering over and beyond them still more mountains.  The ground beneath us was sandy, desert like, with tufts of grass growing sparsely.  In the distance were an abundance of horses, cows, goats and sheep. Dotted about, some close, some far off, were round, white, marshmallow like tents.  The Nomad’s homes.

Once the horses finished drinking we mounted again and walked away from the well, northeast towards the Tuul river.  Two hours or so later the time came for Batdrack to take his leave.  Batdrack left us with some inspirational parting words.  To me; ″Sam, hold on to your horse.” To Tim; ″If anyone threatens you, show them your knife.”  He turned his two horses around and galloped off, quickly moving out of our sight.  Tim and I continued on alone, across the sandy, Gobi-like pasture lands.  The ground started to change and the grass became knee high clumps, more abundant than before. Soon, we were moving through waist high, reed-like grass.  The horses became jittery, fearful of predators hiding in grass and irritated by the swarms of horseflies. In the distance we could see the Tuul river flood planes, alive with hundreds of livestock and glittering with tiny pools of water. Towering black rocky mountains leapt out of the ground framing the landscape to the north and east.

Shortly thereafter the horses started to become very jumpy and energised, ready for flight.  Tim and I looked around to discover that the source of this nervous energy was an enormous bull to the west. The bull was charging around moving other cows, goats and sheep in the same way a shark might herd a school of fish, sending them scattering outwards in all directions.  He appeared to be heading our way.  We moved to the east over a small collection of sand dunes on to higher ground.   The bull decided not to confront us and turned his attention back to the other livestock.

Once over the dunes we found the road we had been heading for; in reality a sandy track, barely visible and rarely travelled.   We followed the road east through a small settlement consisting of a few gers. Outside each ger was a motorbike, a wooden post for tying horses to and freshly washed clothes drying.  To the north the landscape sloped down and away to immense flood planes that eventually led to the winding, snake-like Tuul river, the desert gradually giving way to rich green, emerald pasture for a couple of hundred yards either side of the Tuul.  The first trees we had seen since our trip began lined the Tuul’s banks.  The heart literally ached to look down on this scene from the hair-dryer hot, fly-blown vantage point of the desert road. The “Tuul Gol” as it is known in Mongolian snakes for 704km through the harsh and arid central Mongolian countryside.  Tuul means ″to wade through” in Mongolian and this river is considered scared by the local people.  Beyond and across the river were mountain ranges that towered above everything else.

As we plodded through the little village, my horses took exception to something or other and spooked again. I fought to hold onto them but then they shied again and Captain James tore off.  I hung on for dear life. The horses cantered around at high speed in a small, tight circle and for all our sake’s I eventually let go of Captain James’ lead rope. He galloped off down the road in the direction we had come from. Fortunately, a man three or four hundred yards down the road had just left his ger and climbed onto his motorbike.  Without much fuss he manage to halt the horse and caught him.  It took some time to convince Mongol Morris to get close to the luggage again but eventually I managed to mount and the three of us walked back down the track to where Tim was waiting.

We continued riding along the sandy track occasionally passing a lone ger or three, all sporting the obligatory barking dog, or four.  Five eagles flew overhead, throwing enormous shadows on the ground, making the horses even more jittery.  The view to the south consisted of gentle green rolling hills.  The grass looked lush until one got close and saw it was dry and scant.  The occasional vodka bottle sparkled in the searing sun.  Horse flies pecked at us and the horses.

After a few hours the road drifted towards the river and we decided to stop for a rest and water the horses. A boy of sixteen or thereabouts arrived on his horse, no doubt curious about the strangers.  He helped us hobble our horses and remove their bits so they could drink.  Mongols always remove a horse’s bit before allowing it to drink, a terrifying maneuver for the inexperienced as it necessitates removing the bridle then swiftly replacing it.  When nobody was watching we tended to let the horses drink with their bits in place but a Mongol horseman regards this sort of behavior as disgraceful. The boy chatted with us for a while and we sat on the river bank letting Mongol Morris graze on the tiny meadow of lush grass while the other horses stood hobbled, flicking flies with their tails and nodding their head.

After half an hour we moved on. My horses shied again several times that day but I managed to hang on. My hands were so sore and regularly went numb but I dared not loosen my grip, even to brush biting horse flies from my skin. I still experience pins and needles in my hands, even now the trip has ended.

The road meandered away from the river and then back again and we found our first solo campsite on the flood planes near the Tuul river. As we descended onto the choice but heavily grazed pasture we passed an “Ail” of Gers, (a group of homes clustered together, normally housing members of the same extended family), and rode a respectable distance from them to a flat piece of land a hundred yards or so from the Tuul river proper but surrounded by pools of water left behind by floods earlier in the year.  We dismounted and hobbled the horses. Tim rode over to the Ail to let the people there know who we were. Ten minutes later he returned with the message that we were okay to stop for a night here. Soon after Tim returned two boys rode over. They were from the ger Tim approached and their father had sent them to help us unload. One boy was 15 years old and the other was 5. We chatted to the older boy who asked us ″Where are you from? Where are you going?” and ″Where is your car?” We were able to understand and respond in Mongolian and felt pleased that we had studied the language or this simple but pleasant exchange could not have occurred.  Countryside people rarely speak or understand English. During this blog, unless stated otherwise one can assume all conversations took place in Mongolian. In answer to his question about our car the young man was amazed when we replied ″We do not have a car. We are travelling on horseback.” He continued with his questions, ″Do you have hobbles? Do you have a ground tether?” We explained what we had and he was pleased we understood what to use. If we did not have hobbles etc he would have lent us some. He helped us unload the horses while his 5 year old brother sat open mouthed, staring at us. Once the horses were unloaded the brothers rode off and Tim and I set up camp. We were extremely tired and I felt mentally fatigued. I could not help but feel dread for the following day in case I yet again lost my horses or worse. We tethered Captain James and Tim’s riding horse to the ground stakes recycling the ropes used to tie the Manties. Mongol Morris and Tim’s luggage horse were hobbled. After we had eaten we set the alarm clock for an hour in the future and settled down to sleep, taking turns to check on the horses every hour throughout the night. On one of my shifts and on one of Tim’s we had to wonder about in the dark to find and bring back the hobbled horses who had wandered off across the flood plane towards the river.  At one point I woke up to the sound of Tim shouting my name.  I awoke with a start thinking something terrible had happened but when I replied to his shout Tim eventually returned to the tent and confessed that he had lost his way in the dark and had been unable to find his way back.